Pixar’s Films Are Average and You Know It

Pixar's Films Are Average and You Know It

Lauded, showered with praise and
awards, raking in billions at the box office, and beloved by audiences
everywhere. Pixar films have made a significant impact on contemporary culture.
Yet by digging just a little bit beneath the surface, it’s regrettably obvious
that Pixar’s films are far from cutting edge: they’re rather average. The
emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, but everyone believes he’s wearing the
finest robes.


This may be hard to accept and it’s
going to take some explanation. So let’s set the parameters so that this most
explosive of statements isn’t misconstrued. The argument is based purely on
artistic merit and creativity and that means:

1.     Box office grosses are no indicator of either

2.     Awards are not an impartial form of measurement

3.     Taste is personal and just because you think Pixar’s
films are the best doesn’t mean they actually are the best


Why is it necessary to exclude these
parameters? Because they are subjective and open to manipulation. Box office
grosses are too closely tied to marketing budgets, awards are at the whim of
private organizations or studios, and individual taste goes without saying. As
proof, I freely admit that the generally panned Goro Miyazaki film Tales from
is a personal favorite. Such a statement alludes to my taste in
animated films, but it does not affect my ability to persuade you that it is
the best using irrefutable facts.


Back to Pixar though, and to say that
they make average films is to place them halfway between the extremes. The
studio does not make bad films, (of that their technical and creative talent is
obvious,) but how far away from the other extreme do they fall?


Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The
Secret of Kells
, and My Neighbor Totoro all lie much closer to generally
accepted animated excellence (for differing reasons of course.) In contrast to
these films, Pixar’s are remarkably safe. They convey a narrowly defined range
of themes, they are content to reuse a ‘house style’, and sequels aside (another
demerit), their stories are far from unique to filmmaking as a whole.


As a result. no Pixar film has pushed
the artistic envelope: they have appeared to without actually doing so. They
have not revolutionized animated filmmaking outside of their technology. Their
films have sparked imitators aplenty, but then financial success will always do
that. What Pixar’s films haven’t done, is inspire others to make a
creative leap. The Looney Tunes and MGM shorts of the day developed as
rapidly as they did because the teams behind them were determined to outdo each
other creatively. Today, animated films (and especially CGI ones) do not
compete creatively, but rather financially. Studios create with an eye to
outdoing another studio at the box office first and foremost; any artistic developments
as a result are rather coincidental. After all, no studio was inspired to
create a CGI film because of Pixar’s artistic genius, they saw a concept that
was profitable and wanted a piece of the pie for themselves!


To get to the crunch of the issue, you
have to consider how Pixar’s films are viewed by the general population. A
cross-section of society will reveal fans in every age, race, gender, and
socio-economic bracket. Their films appeal to all, and in turn are remarkably
popular. This is possible primarily because the films are
average. They do not appeal to anyone in particular, and as a result, appeal to
all. In doing so, they out their average-ness. As evidence that this is true,
here’s Simon Cowell explaining why he’s been so successful at finding musical stars:

I have average tastes. If you looked in my collection
of DVDs, you’d see
and Star Wars. In the book library, you’d see John Grisham and
Sidney Sheldon. And if you look in my fridge, it’s children’s food — chips,
milkshakes, yogurt.”


Nobody denies that Jaws and Star Wars
are not great films, but artistically they are decidedly middle-of-the-road
blockbusters. For large-budget films looking to break records, pushing the
boundary is too risky, and promises too little reward. Studios that decide to
put hundreds of millions of dollars into a production are extremely careful
that they will make that money back, and that contrasts with many independents
and smaller studios, who are often happy just to get a film made and seen by
people. As a result, they take greater liberties with financial restraints, and
can push artistic boundaries as a result.


Does this perhaps exemplify that
Pixar’s business model is actually to avoid creating superb films? Walt Disney
recognized that it was shorts that made his bread and butter, but that features
promised a route to explore then untried aspects of animation. Imagine if Pixar
released a film with casual abandon of all financial goals. Imagine if John
Lasseter was told to make the best film he could. Would such a film look
anything like the Pixar films we’ve seen until now? I very much doubt it. For
all the artistic talent that resides within Pixar, it has to either be
fantastically wasted, or not as great as we’ve been led to believe.


At the end of the day, it’s fine to
look to Pixar as a model for certain things such as its CGI technology, its
managerial structure, or even its campus; but to look to them as a creative
leader and innovator is wrong. They do not reside on the cutting edge of
feature animation, and to accept such a belief is to drink some very strong

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What a stupid and shallow argument. Art is technology and viceversa.
I was definitely expecting more from this website.


You wrote this for the clicks. The case for Pixar’s films being mediocre was not made in this article at all. You say that WB and MGM were innovative in their time but you don’t provide suitable evidence. You totally discounted the effect of technology on animation when animation is among media most affected by it. Also, you did not break down how, in terms of actual filmmaking, the Pixar films are lacking. Not only that, you blindly spread this judgment over Pixar’s entire catalog. Furthermore, you name-checked Jaws and Star Wars as ‘middle-of-the-road’ blockbusters when both films are repeatedly cited as creating the modern blockbuster.

Please do your research. When making a value judgment, it is not enough to make the statement but you must provide proof that your claim is merited.

Please do your research. You don’t have to knock Pixar films because you prefer Studio Ghibli. That’s fine. But to say one is lesser than the other just because you can is like comparing apples to oranges. You don’t.

And please don’t liken Pixar fans (kids and adults) to the victims of the Jonestown massacre. That’s callous.

If you want to spitball silly op-eds without actually do your research, go to another site. Don’t write for clicks. Write to broaden understanding.


I’m afraid I have to agree with the commenters. The article was promising and there were cool sentences here and there, but but the end I was thinking " was that it? "
Too much of a shallow value statement, for someone who claims objectivity.

Nic Kramer

I hate say this, but this is one of the worse article Kenny ever wrote. What next? Bashing "Fantasia" and Mickey?


Art is subjective to the viewer.

Jody Morgan

While the premise of this essay is valid, it’s just not developed well, leading to what seems to be a facile, clickbait article. A more focused premise, such as "Pixar’s innovations are technological rather than artistic" or "Pixar films need to take more storytelling risks to be truly great" would, I think, have resulted in a more thought-provoking essay. As for SW&tSD, is there any reason to esteem it as the greatest of Disney’s features other than its trailblazing status? It is, to be sure, an excellent movie, but what did it do better than, say, "Pinocchio" or "Beauty and the Beast"?

Leo N. Holzer

Did Donald Trump write this? I find your critical analysis skills lacking. No arguments made; no proof or evidence cited. Just a flawed opinion, likely not held by very many other people.

Some of Pixar’s films are "average," but many are first-rate. And, I think it’s rather silly to suggest wide audience appeal means a film can’t be brilliant. All three films you mention have wide appeal, especially "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." The other two may not have enjoyed the same "commercial" success, but I’d argue that’s due to other factors that have more to do with marketing than "appeal."

Pixar is nearly always pushing the boundaries — both in technology and in storytelling. I’d argue that there are a handful of above average — even incredibly great — Pixar features and even more shorts.

Of the features, I’ll mention just three simply because the tell challenging and complex stories no other studio would green light: "Ratatouille," "Up," and "Inside Out."

As you said, there’s a lot of subjective opinion on what constitutes a great film but you failed to really give us your own criteria. So your effort falls well below average and deserves an F.


Flavor-Aid was used at Jonestown.  Kool-Aid re. mind control is a reference to Ken Kesey’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests and the Tom Wolfe novel from 1968.  They’re commonly confused with one another, much like technical ability and creativity.  


This article makes a lot of strong statements without backing them up. Like, what exactly do you mean by "…no Pixar film has pushed the artistic envelope: they have appeared to without actually doing so."? You compare Pixar to WB and MGM, but don’t illustrate how the Golden Era studios pushed each other creatively, whereas the modern animation studios apparently don’t. I would also have to say that Pixar’s emphasis on financial success over critical acclaim is a systematic problem that all of the major animation studios share (and that’s assuming that I agree with your statement that Pixar doesn’t try to shoot for creative greatness, which I don’t). Right now all we have here is clickbait, and I’d really like to think that Animation Scoop is better than that.

Dan Wolf

If you’re going to write an article that verges on a kind of I’m-right-and-the-world-is-wrong arrogance, you’d better make sure your writing contains no embarrassing "objective" errors. I’m afraid you failed on this count. I.E., your sentence, "Nobody denies that Jaws and Star Wars are not great films …" is saying the opposite of what you wish to say. It contains a double-negative such that you are, in effect, saying that everyone agrees that Star Wars and Jaws are not great films. So, do a better job on your own average writing (the mistake is not an uncommon one [note the correct use of a double-negative]) and accept that you are merely saying that, in your opinion, Pixar films are no better and no worse than average and then give us some qualitative examples as to why this is so.


This commentary is the equivalent of complaining that an apple is not an orange, or in cinematic terms, that Spotlight is not The Force Awakens.


The biggest fault in Pixar films is probably that the characters all have the same eyeballs. Then there’s the lack of onscreen deaths of beloved characters. And nobody can deny that they’ve reached the zenith of cinematic detail and have no easy stylistic alternative ready to replace the realism they’ve used as a crutch. Every film has had to be more realistic than the one before it, just like in the special effects industry. They have the ability to change, but they’re slave to their own pipeline.

Still, their storytelling is clearly better than average. Toy Story, for instance, has Buzz Lightyear who doesn’t realize that he’s a toy and the whole progression from there. Their characters are interesting. An example of that would be the monster in Monsters Inc. who throws his partner into the door to keep from being decontaminated.


It’s funny, these are the sort of articles that led me to stop visiting Cartoon Brew. I love to read different opinions, but when an entire article is so wildly off base, it lessens the actual website. Jerry, are you still involved here?


Btw, love how he used Mater from Cars as his image. Why didnt he use a pic of Carl Fredrickson? Wall-E? Joy or Sadness? Jessie? Nemo? My list can continue.


Even if Pixar has made a number of mediocre films over the past five years ("Inside Out" excepted), a large number of their films are far above "average". As I expected, nothing presented in this clickbait nonsense gave me any reason to think otherwise. This piece is idiotic – and I’m sure its writer knows *that*.

Jacqueline meMurray

I completely agree with these comments. The next time you want to bash someone else’s work, you need some hard evidence. You left me in the dark about some things as well. Jacqueline Murray.

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